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If Marco Polo were alive today, what tales would he tell about China and Tibet?

Dr. Andrea Galli

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In 1298, Marco Polo told astonishing stories about a marvellous land he called Cathay, modern-day China which was ruled by the Yuan dynasty. During his extraordinary journey, Marco Polo also visited Tibet, which was also under the Yuan dynasty. He was the first Westerner to refer to Tibet as a part of China, and nobody objected. Marco Polo had no idea how his observations might change the face of the globe.

Since those days, world events have gathered speed. Columbus discovered America, at first believing it was Asia; disaffected and persecuted Europeans began to populate the shores of the new continent, squeezing further inland the indigenous population. Empire builders sought new colonies ever further afield. New lands to conquer, new resources to appropriate, new riches to seize…

Societies were subjected to similar upheavals. Old forms of exploitation were reinvented, with slavery giving way to feudal serfdom; ancient and new religious beliefs spread across the planet, to capitalism and communist ideologies divided the globe and its peoples.

Following the Second World War, the US saw in Tibet a religious patent that could be exploited against communism as an ongoing propaganda campaign. It started with an armed uprising in 1959 against the People’s Republic of China, followed by the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama in India and the establishment of the Government of Tibet in Exile ruling over about 100,000 Tibetan refugees settled mainly in northern India.

Ever since, China has considered all Tibet’s pro-independence movements as part of a strategic propaganda operation abetted by Western imperialists who want to destabilize China. This view was bolstered, for example, by the CIA‘s backing of Tibetan insurgencies during the 1950s and 1960s, the support of Western NGOs for the “pro-Tibet” riots of 2008 when China hosted the Olympic Games, and the continuing self-immolations by Tibetans and Buddhist monks promoted since 2009 by the Government of Tibet in Exile, praised as courageous by the 14th Dalai Lama – although he questioned their effectiveness – and glorified by NGOs advocating human rights for Tibet.

There have been intermittent expectations of formal negotiations between the principal parties to the Tibet issue, but their zero-sum view of Tibet’s political status, reciprocal accusations and mutual suspicion have been persistent barriers. The participation of other actors has also had an effect. Many foreign states acknowledge Tibet as a part of China, while none formally recognizes the Government of Tibet in Exile – also known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – yet a number of them sustain the cause of the exiles in other ways. Thousands of supporters of Tibetan independence, encouraged by Western NGOs have also rallied to this cause, including members of the world’s parliaments, rights activists, actors, musicians, and ordinary converts to Tibetan Buddhism in the West.

In reality, communications on Tibet are persistently disseminated by the CTA, Western NGOs and the Chinese government as part of well-planned and organized propaganda campaigns serving contrasting geopolitical and military interests. China is in a particularly difficult position, since it is surrounded by topographical features that make it difficult for major armies to pass through. In the southwest there is Tibet: from a military point of view, it is a solid wall that has to be held. China has a fundamental security interest in retaining Tibet as well as an economic interest in its enormous natural resources, because Tibet is also the Chinese anchor in the Himalayas with its huge and still virtually untapped reservoir of minerals, metals, water and energy. From this perspective Tibet can be considered as a major Achilles’ heel for China.

In the context of decades of propaganda during and after the Cold War, serving the different geopolitical and military interests, the concept of Shangri-La is particularly important to our understanding of how Tibet is presented. Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by the British author James Hilton. Hilton describes it as a mystical, harmonious Himalayan valley, serenely guided by a monastery of lamas or spiritual masters. Shangri-La has evolved in the Western collective imagination into a modern surrogate of the lost Garden of Eden: a mythical utopia, a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world, dedicated to the preservation of peace, spirituality and nature. It is an ideological fantasy representing the last refuge of Western societies from their present and historical sins of consumerism, atheism, capitalism and colonialism. The Shangri-La notion is the central constituent for manoeuvring popular opinion in the propagandistic exploitation of the collective imagination in Western countries.

The narrative of the Tibetan Government in Exile

Leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) have opportunistically adopted parts of the myth of a pre-1951 Shangri-La in Tibet to promote a theocracy, from which the rulers gain legitimacy and to whose members secular Tibetans should pay obeisance, rather than being controlled by them. In promoting this idea, they use only that part of the Western idealization of Tibet, as Shangri-La, that is useful in legitimizing their status in the eyes of the West, however cementing their de-facto theocratic power within the exiled diaspora.

Because of the need for Western support of the exiled government and the significant role played by externally-based NGOs supporting Tibetan independence, Western hegemony is accepted in the diaspora’s discourses concerning Tibet and the Tibetan identity. A strategic essentialism that simplifies Tibetan identities for Westerners in the context of Shangri-La also impacts the self-identities of exiled Tibetans, many of whom accept Westernized notions of the Tibetan identity. Thus, although a modern sense of nationhood was absent in pre-1951 Tibet, CTA representations cast Tibetan nationhood as an historical reality. To gain legitimacy in the West, democratizing elements have been added to self-governance in exile, and the vocabulary of human rights, development, environmental protection, and so forth has been deployed by the CTA and supported by Western NGOs. Representations that directly fulfil the established Western image of Tibetans as inherently spiritual and peaceful have been especially prominent, forged by the personification of this utopia in the figure of the 14th Dalai Lama as a symbolic icon.

In reality, spirituality and sovereignty are linked through Tibet’s traditional system of theocratic government, in which politics and religion were tightly knit. Many exiled government officials continue promoting this system as ideal for Tibet and as an alternative to the atheistic Communist system of China. On the other hand, China has over the last three decades relaxed draconian and brutal Mao-era rules, by opening the door to private sector capitalism and by allowing individuals to practice a religion of their choice. There are now almost three times as many Buddhists in China as there are Communist Party members – there are 90 million members of Communist Party of China, some 250 million Buddhists and 200,000 registered Buddhist monks.

While the Chinese government’s approach to Buddhism has been liberal, it clearly takes the religion’s influence seriously, given its importance in Chinese society. The Chinese government is also acutely sensitive to the possibility of what it sees as external interference, especially on the delicate subject of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.

A particularly divisive issue for the Buddhist community, both within Tibet and in the exiled communities is devotion to the Dorje Shugden deity, a 400-year old practice that began in the 17th century and has become a major tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. At the origin of the controversy lies a de facto ban on the religious practice issued by the 14th Dalai Lama decades ago. The CTA sees the religious practice of Dorje Shugden as a competing and heretical movement that may undermine their notion of the spiritual leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama inside Tibet and among Tibetan Buddhists.

The de-facto ban issued by the 14th Dalai Lama has generated considerable social tension and division in the diaspora, as well as in Tibetan society within China, leading the Chinese government to consider the Dorje Shugden controversy an important front for undermining what it says are efforts promoted by the 14th Dalai Lama aimed at destabilizing China. The religious hostility has been fed by considerable propaganda and counterpropaganda efforts during the last two decades and it is still an open battlefield that may escalate at any time. In historical terms, the implications could be reminiscent of Martin Luther’s reformation of Christianity centuries ago.

Significantly sensitive are the methodical efforts of the exiled government to silence opposing voices in the controversy, using systematic defamation and coercive methods, including the use of modern disinformation means like coordinated troll campaigns on social media and fake news campaigns. Such methods seem out of place in the peaceful Shangri-La narrative that is usually promoted, but rather more suited to an atmosphere of historical crisis like the period of the Inquisition. Additionally, it has been continuously observed that Dorje Shugden followers, monks and monasteries in Tibet and abroad are portrayed as heretic, demonic and sectarian, and are branded as Chinese Communist Party supporters or Chinese spies by most NGOs advocating in western countries for the exiled Government’s goals.

 

The role of the Western human rights NGOs

The Western NGOs present pre-1951 Tibet as Shangri-La in a way that serves to reinforce Tibet’s claim for sovereignty in the international community by capitalizing on the yearnings of Western activists for a lost social and ecological harmony. For them China is demonized as an evil force which invaded Tibet in 1951, destroying a previously harmonious, peaceful, ecological and spiritual society. While the 14th Dalai Lama has stated that “all Tibetans want more prosperity, more material development”, those material developments realized by China in contemporary Tibet are seen by the Western NGOs as an immoral cultural regression and a mean of implementing brutal oppression which primarily benefits the Chinese state and Han migrants in Tibet.

The discussion on human rights has been added and elaborated by the exiles and their NGO supporters and has a close fit with similar concerns emerging in international politics generally. While exiled critics see a human rights strategy as detracting from a focus on Tibet’s lack of independence, Chinese officials regard it as the heart of the exiles’ campaign to internationalize the Tibet issue. However, the expression of the Tibet issue as a human rights problem – the mainstay of the exiled Government’s strategy since the mid-1980s – has garnered support from across the political spectrum and provides the exiled Government and their supporting NGOs with a visibility in global politics they would not otherwise have. It stands, moreover, as a challenge to the forced dichotomy of the real versus the ideal and the hegemony of realism in politics generally.

In the last two decades, a statistical table of causalities among Tibetans from 1951 through the 1970s has been widely circulated by Western NGOs. Its total of 1.2 million deaths is based solely on unconfirmed refugee estimates, but is cited often by Western politicians and media. Such figures are characterized by unsubstantiated assertions and improbabilities criticised also by established NGOs advocating for Tibetan independence: for example the head of the Free Tibet Campaign NGO based in UK, examined the refugee interview documents and found large-scale duplications.

The official 1953 census recorded the entire population residing in Tibet at 1.3 million. Other census counts put the population within Tibet at the time at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then almost all of Tibet would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves of which no evidence exists. Other demographic studies show that, as claimed, battle deaths would have been several times the ratio for the main belligerents in the two World Wars; alleged prison deaths would have required that one-tenth of all Tibetans were imprisoned during each year of a three-decade-long period.

While there were unquestionably substantial causalities in Tibet due to violent actions of the Chinese in the Mao era, as there were everywhere in China, the spread of misleading statistics regarding Tibet seems a clear effort to manipulate public perceptions about the real situation.

While the US has formally agreed that Tibet is an integral part of China, its Congress has nonetheless politically and financially supported the Tibetan independence movement driven by the NGOs and the exiled Government. So did the Nobel Prize Committee when it presented the peace award to the 14th Dalai Lama in 1989. Such recognitions and support ignore Chinese contributions to economic development in Tibet: the welfare policy adopted by the central government of China since the 1980s has markedly improved the life of the average Tibetan, and religious freedom has been restored.

Instead of praising the efforts of the Chinese government, the US Congress has criticized any progress made as an attempt to erase Tibetan culture, defining such a process as “cultural genocide”. This terminology has been widely exploited by the NGOs in their propaganda effort since the end of the 1980s, even after several failed attempts to apply the term of “genocide”, whose adequacy has been largely contested in the post-Mao era.

Of particular importance is one of the main propaganda tools used by the NGOs and the CTA to generate media attention and political discussion: the campaign of self-immolation in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. This campaign has intensified since 2009, but has its roots in a few isolated cases that began around 1998 outside Tibet.

The NGOs state that self-immolation acts of Tibetans are an affirmation of the Tibetan identity in the face of “cultural genocide”. This proclamation however disregards the fact that suicide is forbidden in Buddhism. The campaign is heavily exploited around the world. In some cases acts of self-immolation are even used to promote fundraising activities, and particularly in the US, to obtain governmental subsidies, with wide support from cultural exponents like Hollywood actors or famous musicians.

Only very few of Tibet’s Buddhist clerics or exponents of the human rights community have dared to speak out in Western countries against glorifying, praising and promoting acts of self-immolation for political gain. When asking exponents of the NGOs about the justification for this practice, the answer is always evasive, with vague references to obscure roots of self-immolation traditions in the Tibetan culture.

A trilingual (Tibetan – Chinese- English) sign above the entrance to a small café in Nyalam Town, Tibet, 1993

The linking of the Tibet issue to human rights has been traced to the decision of the 14th Dalai Lama and the exiled government to internationalize in the late 1980s. The foundation of the human rights position is the principle of nonviolence, an important aspect of the public face of the exiled government, and fundamental to its policies and its exploitation of the Shangri-La myth. This has facilitated a seamless incorporation of a human rights consciousness into the approach of supportive NGOs, while simultaneously making it plausible and credible to vast popular audiences, especially to non-Tibetan observers in the West.

Human rights and other transnational issues such as the environment have attracted consent for marginalized identity groups across the globe, popularizing their political concerns and aspirations. Popular movements that pivot on “rights” challenge not only state authority, but more recently, the authority of multinational corporations as well. The effect is that many activists have been mobilized to sympathize with the NGOs advocating for Tibetan independence.

Such activists usually have different ideologies but shares principles close to the Shangri-La utopia, like for example anti-globalists or anarchists, but also ecologists or socialists or vegans… In reality, the concept of human rights diplomacy itself implies the corruption of human rights as an ideal; it is a defective concept from the standpoint of idealists, because it reflects the imperfect fit between their goals and national, political and military hegemonies. It also reflects the gap between popular, state and geo-political interests, particularly when applied with double standards. In the ideal world, rights should be above interests, but in the “real” world, they are merely ideals.

Worldwide there are about a thousand associations, foundations or charity organisations that revolve around the subjects of Tibetan independence, human rights for Tibet or the 14th Dalai Lama. A complete overview has not been established yet. However, the following NGOs (some registered as charities, some as foundations) play a crucial role in this discussion:

INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR TIBET is an NGO (website savetibet.org), based in Washington, US. It is endowed with a 4 million USD annual budget and supports the goals of the 14th Dalai Lama and the CTA. The NGO says it promotes human rights and democratic freedom in Tibet and is active in lobbying US Congressional committees. It networks with other exiled Chinese democracy NGOs, promotes news coverage of issues in Tibet, like for example self-immolation, “cultural genocide” or anti-Dorje Shugden campaigns. Additionally it publishes two newsletters, the Tibet Press Watch and Tibetan Environment & Development News, and speaks to academics, journalists, and civic and community groups. Its main public exponent is the actor Richard Gere.

TIBET HOUSE (aka Tibet House US Cultural Center of H. H. the Dalai Lama, website tibethouse.us) was founded in 1987 by Columbia University professor Robert Thurman (father of actress Uma Thurman), actor Richard Gere and modern composer Philip Glass (among others) at the behest of the 14th Dalai Lama. It operated initially only in New York. The organisation now has affiliates in India, Mexico, Germany, Spain, the UK and Russia. Besides the preservation of the Tibetan culture, the organisation is active in supporting the political views of the 14th Dalai Lama and is very active in propaganda against Chinese rule in Tibet and China. In the US it has annual revenue of 2.5 million USD and accumulated assets of 6.5 million USD.

FREE TIBET (website freetibet.org) is a small NGO based in London, UK with an annual budget of 500,000 USD. In spite of its small budget the NGO has a strong online presence in social media. The group’s political views are aligned with those propagated by the CTA.

STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET is an NGO based in New York, US with a declared annual budget of 700,000 USD. The NGO says it is a network of 35’000 students working toward social justice and freedom in Tibet. Students for a Free Tibet educates young people propagating a message of Tibetan independence and works on translating that awareness into action through political, economic, and social campaigns. Students for a Free Tibet say they recognize the legal and historical status of Tibet as an independent country. This NGO was the main organizer of Tibetan protesters who disrupted the Summer Olympic ceremony, the Olympics torch relay in Beijing, 2008.

TIBET FUND (website tibetfund.org) is a foundation based in New York, US. The entity has an annual budget of about 6 million USD and cumulative assets of 8 million USD. The Tibet Fund, founded in 1981, is the principal fund raising organization working very close with the CTA. The fund partner is the organisation OFFICE OF TIBET, the official agency of the 14th Dalai Lama and the CTA based in Dharamsala, India. OFFICE OF TIBET is present in 13 countries, with bases in New Delhi, Kathmandu, Geneva, New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Moscow, Brussels, Canberra, Pretoria, Taipei and Budapest. They are in charge of bilateral relations with different countries as well as with European Union institutions and the United Nations Organisation. The organisations have several substructures registered as Foundations in the US and abroad, like for example the OFFICE OF TIBET US or the TIBETAN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT FUND INC. The OFFICE OF TIBET US also has a managerial function with respect to the current president of the CTA, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, who is a US citizen living in Boston.

THE DALAI LAMA TRUST (websites dalailama.com, dalailamatrust.org) is the foundation of the 14th Dalai Lama based in New York and India which administers the royalties and revenues from his intellectual properties and public events. It was filed in 2009 and in the US the foundation has annual revenues of 2 million USD with accumulated assets of 7 million USD. The trust has several substructures registered as foundations in the US and India and possibly abroad. The total assets or revenue of all structures is not known at present.

INDEPENDENT TIBET NETWORK (formerly CAMPAIGN FREE TIBET) is today a rather obscure network of activists propagating radical separatist political views (called “rangzen”) on Tibetan independence. Its website is tibettruth.com. Formed in 1988 it was a lobbying network which campaigned for justice, human rights and independence for Tibet and East Turkestan. The NGO is today linked to a partner organisation called RANGZEN ALLIANCE, registered in New York and led by Tibetan separatists. The political views of both organisations are presently close to anarchism and against the theocracy of the lamas. They are clear opponents to the CTA, which they consider unsuited to true Tibetan independence. The organisation INDEPENDENT TIBET NETWORK appeared to be originally registered in London and had possible links to the UK intelligence services. Today it has links to the Anonymous hacking group. INDEPENDENT TIBET NETWORK was very active in the 1990s, forging the notion of “cultural genocide” and birth control issues in Tibet. Since 2008, partnering with RANGZEN ALLIANCE, it also glorifies the self-immolation campaigns in Tibet.

TIBETAN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY (website tchrd.org) is an NGO based in Dharamsala, India, closely working with the CTA, also based in Dharamsala. The NGO says it investigates human rights issues in Tibet and amongst Tibetan minorities throughout China. Its budget is unknown. The main focus of the NGO is the coverage of issues in Tibet, like for example self-immolation, political prisoners in China and “cultural genocide”.

The response of the Chinese Government

The Chinese government portrays pre-1951 Tibet not as Shangri-La but as a feudal house of horrors, among the darkest and most backward regions in the world, and one of the regions where human rights violations were most serious. For them the mission in contemporary Tibet is considered as fulfilling a long-term civilizing assignment.

Before the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1951, the region was ruled by a theocracy and had a social hierarchy similar to pre-feudal times. Tibet was characterized by a form of institutionalized inequality that can be called serfdom: an ancient form of slavery preceding the development of the feudal system. It existed in Tibet until 1959. Exploitation was not through land-rent like in the Middle Ages in Europe but through enslavement to the aristocrats, clerics or manor owners. In return for working the land, the slaves were provided with minimal lodging, clothing and food. This form of slavery was finally abolished in Tibet only in 1959. Until that year, when China cracked down on Tibetan rebels and the 14th Dalai Lama fled to northern India, around 98% of the population was enslaved in serfdom. For example, the Drepung monastery, on the outskirts of Lhasa, was one of the world’s largest landowners with 185 manors, 25’000 serfs, 300 pastures, and 16’000 herdsmen. High-ranking lamas and secular landowners imposed crippling taxes, forced boys into monastic slavery and pilfered most of the country’s wealth – torturing disobedient serfs in a variety of brutal ways. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation – including gouging out eyes, pulling out tongues, severing hamstrings and amputation of limbs – were favoured punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or obstructive serfs. Many materials and photos showing the limbs of serfs amputated by serf-owners in those years are kept in the Tibetan Social and Historical Relics Exhibition in the Beijing Ethnic Cultural Palace.

Earlier Western visitors to Tibet commented on the country’s theocratic despotism. In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904, the English traveller and writer Perceval Landon described the then Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression.” At about that time, another English traveller, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft.” Tibetan rulers “invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people.

Serf-owners literally possessed the living bodies of their serfs. Since serfs were at their disposal as their private property, they could trade and transfer them, present them as gifts, use them as collateral against debts and exchange them. Before 1951, Lhasa’s downtown area had a population of around 20’000. It was surrounded by some 1’000 tattered tents, homes of poverty-stricken people and beggars. The average life expectancy was only 35.5 years. In Tibet there was not a single school in the modern sense. The enrolment rate of school-age children was less than 2 percent, and the illiteracy rate reached 95 percent.

Over the centuries the Tibetan lords and lamas had seen the Chinese come and go and had enjoyed good relations with them. When the 14th Dalai Lama was first installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chinese troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with a centuries-old tradition. What upset the Tibetan lords and lamas in the early 1950s was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they feared, before the Communists started imposing their collectivist egalitarian schemes upon Tibet.

The issue flared up in 1956-57, when armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The uprising received extensive assistance from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including military training, support camps in Nepal, and numerous airlifts. Meanwhile in the US, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA-financed front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the 14th Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that organization. The 14th Dalai Lama’s second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA as early as 1951. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet later in the decade. Many Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs.

Whatever the oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did eradicate slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labour. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and begging. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems. Chinese authorities also claim to have put an end to flogging, mutilation, skinning and amputation as forms of criminal punishment.

They themselves, however, have been charged with acts of brutality by exiled Tibetans. The Chinese authorities admit to such acts, particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when the persecution of religious beliefs reached an apex in both China and Tibet. Prior to that, after the uprising in 1959, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. And during the Mao-era “Great Leap Forward”, forced collectivization and grain farming were imposed on the Tibetan peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect on production, which led to famine and substantial related causalities.

Then, in the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls and tried to undo some of the damage inflicted during the previous two decades. In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit some Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal.

By the mid-1980s many of the principal lamas had begun to shuttle back and forth between China and the exiled communities abroad, restoring their monasteries in Tibet and helping to revitalize Buddhism there, including the popular religious practice of worshipping the deity Dorje Shugden. This exchange of religious teaching and movement of clerics across the Chinese border in the Tibetan communities has generated, among the CTA and the 14th Dalai Lama, fears of an accelerating loss of spiritual authority with respect to rival monastic doctrines, leading to the de-facto ban of Dorje Shugden devotion and consequent religious tensions.

In the 1990s, large numbers of Han, the ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s immense population, began migrating into Tibet. Demographic issues in Tibet have always been strongly affected by conflict, migration and family planning. However, the NGO Tibetan Youth Congress has compared China’s migration of Han Chinese to Tibet to the Nazi extermination of Jews. Exiled leaders contend that the Tibetan population was 6 million in 1951 (in contrast of the figures of around 2 million of the 1953 census) and the same a half-century later, because the Chinese government killed al least 1.2 million Tibetans through war, imprisonment, execution, or famine. The figure is cited in Western media, but has been challenged by demographers. The 14th Dalai Lama has accused China of demographic aggression. Tibetan exiles and NGO supporters argue that family planning restrictions contribute to “cultural genocide” and assert that coercive birth control is applied. In reality, according to the 2000 census, there are 6 million Tibetans and 1.5 million non-Tibetans migrants in Tibet; additionally there are 5.4 million Tibetan migrants in Chinese territories outside the Tibetan plateau.

In spite of the demographic factors, Tibetan exiles and NGO supporters argue that the Chinese government carries out development in Tibet with little regard for the views of Tibetans, and that the Chinese Treasury profits exploit the region through state enterprises in sectors such as in mining and timber that operate in Tibet. It is argued that infrastructure in Tibet is constructed to facilitate military operations and the central Chinese government’s exploitation of resources, while most Tibetans, who are peasants and herders, are shut out of development or at least have benefited from it much less than the Han Chinese migrants in Tibetan areas.

In reality, the Chinese government sustains a net loss from Tibetan areas because it heavily subsidizes infrastructure development and government services. It argues that Tibetans are the principal beneficiaries of Tibet’s development, which provides opportunities and facilities open to all, including elements of preferential policies for Tibetans. Government statements emphasize that most Han Chinese in Tibet are temporary migrants engaged in small trade and thus should not be the most significant elements in any assessment of who, among long-term residents of Tibet, benefits from development.

This includes most rural Tibetans, who have experienced significant increases in income levels, education, health care, transport, environmental protection and communications over the past decades. For example the education system has been tailored to the cultural specificities of Tibetans by developing primary level schooling in the Tibetan language and secondary level schooling on a bilingual basis, adding Chinese languages and supplementary English lessons. Another example is the environment: it is argued that it is best preserved using world standards as a baseline, and is a major asset for the development of tourism in the region as well as in the safeguarding of cultural assets.

What would Marco Polo say?

Marco Polo once said of his travels: “I have not told the half of what I saw because I knew I would not be believed”. Tibet seems like a celestial paradise held in chains, but the west’s tendency to romanticise the country’’s Buddhist culture has distorted mainstream Western views. Popular belief is that under the lamas, Tibetans lived contentedly in a spiritual, non-violent culture, uncorrupted by lust or greed: but in reality society was extremely brutal, comparable to the cruelty of the Islamic State which devastated the Middle East societies in recent years. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, feudal theocratic Tibet was a far cry from the romanticized Shangri-La so enthusiastically promoted by Western human rights NGOs.

What additional tales would Marco Polo have told today? Maybe that Tibet has become a major tourist destination for idealists? Or that only a handful of Tibetans would welcome a return of theocratic and aristocratic clans? That the Shangri-La myth is an ideological projection for offering redemption from the sins of consumerism? Or that the whole purpose of promoting the Shangri-La myth is to trade indulgences like Pope Leo X did in 1517? That maybe one day a Buddhist “Martin Luther” will come and nail a Manifesto on the gates of the Potala palace in Lhasa? Or that the Government of Tibet in Exile is a puppet of the CIA, or a relict of the Cold War? We don’t know, nor do we know what effect his words would have had. As the great navigator himself noted: “I speak and speak, but the listener retains only the words he is expecting. It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear”.

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East Asia

Borders and identities in the globalised world

Dr.Katja Banik

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We intend to be kind to everyone. We have many friends. But just as importantly, we aspire to remain ourselves.”Lee Kuan Yen (1923-2015), Prime Minister of Singapore (1959-1990) (Source: Zajec 2016, 236).

A new global governance

The effects of globalisation are radically challenging our perception of the world. In order to respond effectively to current challenges, we must change our mindset, open up to the world, consider those around us and create a new global governance (Brown 2019; Foucher 2019).

The geopolitical transition is underway. China is not only an economic powerhouse, but also a global geopolitical force. Meant to revitalise the “Silk Roads”, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to control the strategic space in which world trade occurs. Inevitably, BRI is meant to shape future global trade routes, and whoever controls these routes will control the world.

US President Donald Trump is pursuing a policy to protect American interests. His “America first” strategy is challenging global governance as we know it. It is revealing, in various ways, the world’s“ unpaid bills”, especially Europe’s(Foucher, 2019).

The persistent institutional crisis within Europe follows the same logic. Created in the aftermath of the Second World War, the European Union is now divided, mainly about refugee flows, BRI, Chinese investments in Europe, and Brexit, to name a few issues.

It is therefore essential to consider the problem’s origins while avoiding ad hoc or, even worse, simplistic solutions, such as those advocated daily by populists on social networks. Thus, we must reset our mindset and have the audacity and imagination to create a new global governance – one that is fairer, more equitable and more responsive not only to current challenges, but to the needs of all humanity:

  1. Identities and borders: How can the right to self-determination be respected and ensured without being divisive? How can we respect the sovereignty of states and territories without renouncing the positive effects of globalisation?
  2. How is it possible to manage Chinese power, power exerted by a country that does not share universal values – the values of the West, especially those of Europe and the United States? How can we integrate this geopolitical force, one which is based on an authoritarian capitalist system and which is expanding not only economically but also geographically? This means a China that is engaging in a conquest of space without making war in the classic sense of the term.
  3. Beyond borders: How can we integrate these two systems of opposing values into a new structure ensuring global cosmopolitical governance?

French geopolitics can provide us with part of the answer. It was Jacques Ancel (1879-1943) who added a very human concept –the identity of the heart – to geopolitical considerations (Ancel 1938, 97-99; Gauchon 2008,11-12). His concept is based on the need for balance and harmony within a society, country or region.

According to Ancel, “The border is a political isobar, which fixes, for a time, the balance between two pressures: the balance of masses, the balance of forces.” In the same spirit:“A solid nation, one in harmony, exists even without visible borders.”(Ancel 1938,196; foreword by Siegfried in Ancel (1938, VIII).

Geopolitical reminder

Geopolitics is the study of the relationships between space and power. It is a multidisciplinary undertaking that encompasses economic, political, cultural, historical and social dimensions. The term “space” refers to land, sea and cyberspace (Banik2016, 19-21).

Ancel’s geopolitics stand in contrast to the German geopolitics of Friedrich Ratzel (1869-1904), which consider states to be “entities determined by people and territory”(Gauchon 2008, 7-9).

Klaus Haushofer (1869-1946) added the notion of “living space and pan-ideas” to this German geopolitical discussion. That is to say, he highlighted the potential solidarity of a people scattered throughout the world in order to justify the expansion ofits living space. Conversely, Ancel placed the human being at the centre of his geopolitical considerations, i.e.man as creator. Thus, “human groups [are what] achieve a harmonious balance, ultimately recognising borders based on a common memory, history and language”. The result is “a nation of the heart in and of itself, non-rational” (Ancel 1938, 106; Gauchon2008, 7-9).

In search of a new balance

The characteristics of globalisation are ambivalent, even contradictory. Thanks to the Internet and digital technology, we are connected with each other to an ever-greater degree. We have access to many sources of information which provide us with seemingly endless facts and figures. The transparency and availability of information might increase, but knowledge and expertise do not necessarily follow suit.

At the same time, the world’s various actors are becoming both more interdependent and more competitive. Nation-states find themselves at odds with the transnational powers resulting from globalisation, such as global companies, economic and political associations and interest groups. All these transnational forces often act beyond the borders, rules and standards set by national laws. This cross-border activity requires greater strategic coordination between the various national and transnational actors (Banik 2016, 17-24).

Yet it is precisely the lack of coordination that causes not only a feeling of loss of control among the public, but also a general feeling of insecurity. Consequently, globalisation engenders an opening to the world, while simultaneously increasing the need to belong to a country or region. It is the need for identity, the need to remain ourselves in the whirlwind of globalisation.

This feeling of insecurity fuels the populist discourse of the far-right parties calling for a return to a Europe of Nations, a return to national thinking. According to this populist, simplistic perspective, the only means to regain control and sovereignty is to restore and strengthen visible borders within and outside the EU.

Moreover, our current world order contains a sort of ideological contradiction between two systems with opposing values: on one side, the West, the EU and the United States; on the other, China with its authoritarian capitalist system. This is highlighted by a renewal of the cult of personality surrounding “strong men”, such as Trump, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. This resurgence of personality cults reinforces the identity aspect in the relevant political strategies.

Despite the advent of these “strong men”, there is a lack of foresight among the entire political class, or even incompetence on its part, whatever the country of origin, at both the national and international levels. This lack of foresight manifests as the chaos found within international organisations and institutions, which all emerged following the Second World War and which are now struggling to find adequate solutions to current challenges (Banik, 2019). The current political storytelling has become obsolete.

Due to the measurable and undeniable economic success of the authoritarian capitalist system in China, our democratic system is experiencing a crisis of confidence – a crisis that can be found mainly in the EU member states.  Thus weakened, Europe is no longer able to respond to current geopolitical and economic challenges and is torn instead between two powers, the United States and China. In the absence of a real, common strategy, the EU is unable to find effective solutions to the issues faced by all actors, such as demographic shifts, increased global urbanisation, worldwide competition for natural resources, technological impacts on the labour market (particularly artificial intelligence), and international terrorism.

Borders and their hallmarks

The process of transnationalisation and deterritorialisation inevitably brings us back to the issues of border, identity and nationality. Nationality is defined as the legal relationship between an individual and a country (Gauchon 2008, 33). It is obvious, even if it is difficult to admit: “Globalisation’s flows do not erase borders, countries, regions, territories or places”(Zajec 2016, 238). On the contrary, the more connected the world is, the more the debate around borders is crucial in any geopolitical discussion. “[N]o natural borders, no closed physical domains that can close states, nations ad aeternum.”(Ancel 1938, 194).

According to Ancel, borders can be described using the “three Ps”: precarious, persistent and permeable. In addition, borderscan be visible or invisible, for example when moving from an urban area to a maritime one. (Ancel 1938, 97-99; foreword by Siegfriedin Ancel, XI).

Arbitrary borders and ‘borders of civilisation’

Ancel mainly differentiates between two types of border. On the one hand, there arethe so-called arbitrary borders, which are tense and strategic, resulting from military claims. The treaties that delineate these borders are temporal and purely based on the national interests of the states involved.

“Borders of civilisation”, on the other hand, are more permanent, since they are based on a memory, history and common language resulting from the balance achieved by a specific group of human beings. Such borders are “nevertheless more complicated, because they are subject to many political and commercial interpretations”. Even if commercial interpretations aim to “pave the way” and not to “enclose” as military interpretations do (Ancel 1938, 102-107), “paving the way” also means, in our current world, a conquest, an expansion, sometimes using military means, into the territory of others.

BRI – a true opening of borders?

The positive effects of globalisation can largely be seen as “paving the way”. Even if BRI is based on a commercial justification, the new Silk Roads are nevertheless closely linked with the idea of geographic and, above all, geopolitical expansion. China’s geopolitical influence is growing, especially in the Eurasian region as a whole, a region which is currently of great strategic import. Thus, BRIis part of China’s security strategy and is developing considerable geostrategic significance.

For years, China has been investing heavily in its military sector. Although the 7.5% increase in 2019 is less than the increase in 2018 (8.1%), the country plans to spend CNY1,190 billion, or €156 billion, to achieve Xi’s goal of having its armed forces “combat ready” (Le Point économique, 2019).

The conquest of space without making war

Having already had a large army, especially in terms of manpower, China has now become a great naval force, a fact Westerners are only beginning to acclimate to, since, for them, China has traditionally been a weak country located very far away.BRI, the revival of the Silk Roads, is the counterpart to Trump’s “America first” policy. The initiative increasingly has military implications: “BRI will likely result in increased overseas access and presence for the People’s Liberation Army(Ratner, 2018; CNBC Asia Politics, 2018). In addition, the majority of workers on BRI construction sites are Chinese and not members of the local workforce. As a result, the initiative is the manifestation of a “China first” policy, one that primarily pursues Chinese interests. The positive impact on countries in the BRI region is quite limited. Worse yet, these countries are becoming more dependent on China, playing the role of debtor to Beijing’s creditor.

In addition, China has skilfully bundled its civil and military interests under the rubric “security”, a concern that now determines its internal and external strategy. In 2017, the budget of the Ministry of the Interior even exceeded that of the Ministry of Defence by 19% (Strittmatter2019, 35).Preserving external security means safeguarding China’s sovereignty, while preserving internal security means ensuring internal stability and control by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Despite the apparent opening of its external borders, China is increasingly enclosing its population, especially through censorship –its invisible border.

The term “harmony” has acquired a special meaning since Xi came to power. He has been the CPC’s “president for life” since 2018. All civil, military and administrative power rests with him and he is pursuing a strategy to protect China’s internal and external interests. As a result, China is extending its borders without making war or conquering territory in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, itis conquering geostrategic space by expanding its geopolitical influence. In China, it seems there is no longer a state, there is only the Communist Party.

Solidity

In keeping with Jacques Ancel’s analysis, especially from the perspective of the “three Ps”– the persistence, precariousness and permeability of borders – developments such as“America first”, China’s Social Credit System, its Corporate Social Credit System(Le Monde 2019), BRI and Brexit are all challenging the very concept of borders.

Faced by two superpowers, China and the United States, the EU is experiencing a full-blown identity crisis and finds itself confronted with a major strategic dilemma. “A solid nation in harmony exists even without visible borders” (Ancel 1938, 196; foreword by Siegfriedin Ancel, VIII). Neither solid nor in harmony, the EU is being dragged into a false discussion on border reinforcement. The visible strengthening of borders does not address the root of the problem.

The solution can be found instead in strengthening the solidity of and identity within the European population. The only basis for a stronger and more harmonious Europe is to ensure that the different identities within the Union are perceived positively and that the shared– and not common – interests of its member states are protected and promoted.

Opposing ideologies

China has introduced a new ideology derived from the notion of “harmony”, which is the key factor in its all-important internal and external strategy. As noted, the aim of BRI is not only to build up a huge network of commercial infrastructure in order to “develop wealth in the region and preserve peace, friendship and trust and understanding between different peoples”, as the CPC has expressed it. BRI is also an integral part of the Party’s plan for preserving national unity and internal stability. Harmony is China’s “leitmotiv”, its mantra while it pursues a policy of expansion, of conquest, geographically and geopolitically, without resorting to armed force.

Although less elegant, Donald Trump’s policy maintains the same logic: the return to national sovereignty, to protecting and defending national interests. The US government has renounced many policy and trade agreements in order to better protect its interest and to expand its sphere of influence. Stability and preserving unity, identity and sovereignty are the top priorities.

Thus, the balance of power, the field of engagement between the countries and actors is changing. Two systems with opposing values are facing off in a race for global leadership. The EU finds itself squarely in the centre of this field of engagement.

The EU: a political union of shared interests

The European Union has three major problems: First, it lacks a real strategy or vision; second, the European institutions do not function in a truly democratic manner; third, the different national identities within the EU are misperceived and, subsequently, hard to manage. It is precisely this unsuccessful management of European identities that fuels the discourse on strengthening borders as the sole remedy for the Union’s difficulties.

The EU is not a national power like the United States, China and Russia, but a “forward-thinking” geopolitical actor that must find its own way as globalisation progresses. Without a new political narrative, Europe must inevitably lose influence on the international scene. Only close cooperation between EU member states and the promotion of shared interests can ensure that Europe will become a power to reckon with on the geopolitical stage, on par with China and the United States.

First and foremost, the emotional charge must be removed from the discourse on borders and national identities. Europe must ensure a space exists where people can live in freedom, a space where we can live our different European identities. Were this to be realised, it would not be a threat to Brussels but, on the contrary, a complementary force ensuring the right to self-determination.

In addition, the European institutions must be democratised. What is needed is a European Parliament that reflects the voice of Europeans and that, after elections, forms a truly European government, an assembly of specialists and experts that transcends party politics. The EU must stop being divided along party lines. Were that the case, the EU would become the main driver for improving the democratic system.

Democracy should never be called into question, but democratic structures must be adapted on an ongoing basis. A harmonious Europe is the only way to ensure a secure space – one surrounded by borders –that defends its shared political, economic and geopolitical interests. This is how the EU could take the lead in creating a new type of global governance. In view of the weaknesses of nation-states such as China and the United States, Europe is in a favourable position to lead the way in building a new system of cosmopolitical governance – a cosmopolitical system with “borders of civilisation” which might be visible, arbitrary or even invisible, but which, above all, would not divide but provide the framework needed to consolidate the required cosmopolitical standards.

Conclusion: new “storytelling” for the EU

As noted, Ancel emphasises the human notion in his geopolitical approach. The important thing is to recognise and calmly accept the feeling of belonging to a country, to a region –accept, that is, the very natural need for identity. Such an identity ensures the political unity that would sustain the evolution towards a new Europe and, subsequently, towards a new global governance. A European identity must be cultivated, in addition to the various national identities. This European identity, moreover, can help define the objective interests shared by most member states.

Globalisation is forcing us to think and act in terms of geo-economics (Overholt 2018). Safeguarding economic interests has become imperative. The EU must build a political union of shared interests and must create strategic alliances as a result. The important thing is to build these alliances in the spirit of cooperation and not, as is the case in today’s world, in the spirit of competition. Facing today’s challenges is only possible in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance, especially since the ultimate goal is not only to improve our democratic processes, but to move humanity forward as well. According to Ancel, a border is “a political isobar, which fixes, for a time, the balance between two pressures: the balance of masses, the balance of forces”(Ancel 1938, 195). In this spirit, we must change our global governance and, above all, our political narratives.

A new “storytelling”is required since today’s political practices and narrative strategies have lost their significance. The balance of power has changed radically. Neither the West nor China will alter its political system. It is therefore necessary to integrate China into the new global governance, even if it clearly does not adhere to our values.

Shared interests and common cosmopolitical standards must be defined in order to ensure social justice (Nida Rümelin 2017, 70, 178-180) and greater equity, particularly in the distribution of natural resources, in order to effectively combat global poverty. Globalisation requires the establishment of more regulations, standards, laws and coordination between national and transnational forces.

The real problem does not stem from the issue of borders. Borders will always exist, even in the globalised world. There are no problems with borders. There are only problems with nations.” (Ancel 1938, 196). It is important to tolerate and accept different national identities and lifestyles and, above all, to recognise that we all live in a world which requires more and not fewer regulations and laws.

Moreover, only the existence of a true European identity can ensure the necessary political unity for evolving towards a solid, harmonious Europe. By acting boldly, this new Europe can take the lead in establishing a new cosmopolitical governance. What is needed is a politically united Europe that asserts its shared objective interests and values by creating a space providing freedom and tolerance. Consequently, we must revitalise an idea advanced by Jacques Ancel: “We do not change borders except by force; we change our minds” (Ancel 1938; foreword by Lomnica in Ancel 1938, 2).

Let us change our way of thinking

Note: This is a translation of an article originally written in French. The original will be published by L’Harmattan, Paris, in spring 2020.

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East Asia

China, the “New Things” of New Year’s Eve

Dr.Luciano Magaldi

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The world’s most massive seasonal  migration begins. From 10th to 15th February 2020, as every year, millions of Chinese will move from one part of the country to the other to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

According to China State Railway Group, the public company that operates rail transport in the People’s Republic, over five weeks, about 440 million rail journeys  will be made (8% more than in 2019) with an average of 11 million transfers per day.

To cope with the rising numbers, 5,275 extra train journeys per day will be made available, while for the first time, in some train stations, it will be possible to access with digital tickets and carry out checks with facial recognition.

In Guangzhou and Shenzhen fast ticketing will allow, through facial recognition,  to deduct the ticket fare directly from the WeChat Pay account of a traveler once they arrive at their destination.

Hong Kong: one in five Adults suffer from Stress Disorder

The political crisis facing Hong Kong is rapidly compromising people’s mental health -this is revealed by a study published in the authoritative lancet scientific journal that in 2019 – coinciding with the onset of anti-extradition protests – a third of Hong-Kong inhabitants in adulthood – almost 2 million people – have shown signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), up from 5% five years ago.

The survey, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, reveals a close relationship between the mental state of citizens and the massive circulation of strong images through social networks.

According to the researchers, the discomfort highlighted  by the population of the former British colony is comparable to “the state of mental health reported as a result of large-scale disasters, armed conflicts or terrorist attacks.”

Renewables:  Greenpeace  rejects Chinese Big High-tech Companies

Greenpeace  has – for the first time ever – released a ranking of Chinese technology companies based on its commitment to the transition to renewables. Within two decades, cloud storage and data center  services could account for one-third of global energy demand.

A sector that in China, in 2018, was powered by 73% of coal. But overall, the response of Chinese big tech discolours from what competitors in other countries have undertaken.

Among the 15 large companies considered by Greenpeace, only one – digital service provider Chindata – has committed to meet 100% of its energy needs through renewable sources, in line with what Apple and Google promised.

Among the companies that rely most on cloud computing, e-commerce giant Alibaba is the best performing in terms of transparency and emissions levels. But to date, 80% of the companies surveyed – with the exception of Tencent – have not made public data on electricity consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.

Huawei is the only company to have set pollutant reduction targets

Virus from the Strange Pneumonia Epidemics identified

Chinese researchers have finally identified  the virus behind the strange cases of pneumonia reported in Wuhan since mid-December – it would be a corona virus, a family of viruses at the origin of diseases of various severity, from the common cold to Sars.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is a new corona virus “different from those previously  discovered and more scientific research is needed  for greater understanding.”

At the moment  there  is no evidence that the new virus is easily transmissible from man to man. Since last month, a total of 59 cases have been reported in the city of Wuhan, in 15 of which corona virus turned out to be the pathogen of the infection.

As in the case of Sars, the epidemic could have started from contact with wild animals since almost all the affected individuals  worked  in a fish market where wild species, such as pheasants and snakes, were also present.

No deaths  have been reported so far, although seven people are in serious  condition – 8 were discharged from the hospital with no more symptoms. During the 2003 Sars outbreak, nearly 800 people were killed.

Unlike then, this time the response of the Chinese authorities has won the acclaim of the World Health Organization.

Tmall, a Support of Gay Couples

Lunar New Year is one of the rare occasions when Chinese families gather under  one roof. For many undeclared homosexuals, however, the party is a source of embarrassment and coincides with long interrogations about that heir who strangely never arrives.

Tmall, Alibaba’s retail site, decided to break with tradition by launching a video dedicated to the return home of gay and lesbian couples.

The clip, which captures the presentation of their mates to their parents, was made to attract purchases before the holiday.

It therefore has first and foremost commercial purposes. But the underlying message did not go unnoticed, winning the approval  of much of the web.

According to a report released by Euromonitor, the economy driven by China’s LGBT community  – which has more than 70 million individuals  – was already worth 300 billion dollars a year in 2017.

Douyin, Beyond the Numbers

As many as 400 million daily active users – this is the goal reached by Douyin, the Chinese microvideo  app known abroad  as Tik Tok, which in 2019 has seen the number of its users increase  by 90%.

According to its parent company ByteDance Ltd. on Sunday, the backward northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang dominate the top five of the most active regions on the platform, although the top spot is ahead of Beijing.

As is often the case, online behavior  also reveals interesting information about users’ lifestylehabits – In fact,  the report confirms that while those born in the 1970s are more inclined to share food videos, the previous  generation prefers group dances and  anime and animals.

But Douyin, as they say, is not just pure garbage- the platform seems to have served to give visibility to 93% of the 1,372 articles classified as national  intangible  cultural heritage.

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Misconceptions about modern China

Amjed Jaaved

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China is, at once, feared and envied by many countries, the United States of America in the forefront. Its sheer size and population is awesome. China’s economic progress has engendered apprehensions that it may overtake the USA and emerge as the new hegemon. The USA harbours a love-hate relation with China dragon. The relation reflects distrust, fractiousness and tension coupled with watchful competitiveness.

The USA looks upon China as a copycat out to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned enterprises through cyber-espionage. Cognitive dissonance in US-China relation is obvious. The USA likes China’s economic progress, as long as it suits American interests. But, it abhors China’s efforts to occupy more strategic space in the region around it, particularly the South China Sea.

China, too, wants to keep an eye on the USA. Its universities and think tanks teem with specialists on the USA, European Union and the rest of the world. There are 150 think tanks focusing on Australia alone. Though India shares border with C china, Chinese students have little interest in exploring Indian culture and history. The Chinese display an indifferent attitude, bordering ignorance about India. Let us mention a few of the misconceptions about modern China heretofore.

Misconception1: Chinese loans are predatory: The US has expressed its apprehensions about Chinese investment in Pakistan, Sri Lanka as elsewhere. For the US, the investments are a predatory debt trap that could lead to ‘asset seizures’ like Hambantota port of Sri Lanka.

The factual position is that Chinese infrastructure loans have not led to the forfeiture of a single valuable asset abroad. The US view is based on Rhodium Group study, which mentions only Hambantota port as the lone instance of seizure. The claim of forced lease or seizure is questionable. The Hambantota port lease, held jointly by the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Port and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, was negotiated over 2016-2017.

Payments of the principal and interest for the port loans included only about 1.5 per cent of Sri Lanka’s external debt repayment obligations. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority promptly paid dues using revenues from Colombo port, which includes a container terminal run by China Merchants Port.

China holds an estimated nine to 15pc of Sri Lanka’s low-interest external debt. It owes high-interest loans to Western commercial banks. International sovereign bonds account for about half of the external debt, with Americans holding two-thirds of their value and Asians only about eight per cent.

Sri Lanka is liable to pay interest averaging 6.3 per cent on international sovereign bonds and the principal must be fully repaid in about seven years. In contrast, more than two-thirds of the value of Chinese state funds lent to Sri Lanka from 2001-2017 (including two-thirds of the Hambantota port loans) were at two per cent interest, and mostly repayable over 20 years.

Media reports about Sri Lanka’s government being forced to sign the port away on a 99-year lease after failing to repay Chinese loans at 6.3pc are untenable.

The Sri Lankan government still owns the Hambantota port and funds received for the lease were used to pay off expensive Western loans. There is no Chinese military base at Hambantota

Misconception 2: China wants to colonise Pakistan: China never harboured any such ambition. History tells that China did its best to ensure protection of Pakistan’s sovereignty. A strong Pakistan is a bulwark for C china’s security as well. Andrew Small, in The China-Pakistan Axis (page 34) tells `In 1982, a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft belonging to the Pakistan military left Urumqi, capital of the North-Western Chinese province of Xinxiang, headed for Islamabad, carrying five lead-lined, stainless steel boxes, inside each were 10 single-kilogram ingots of highly enriched uranium, enough for two atomic’ bombs. He adds, `China began supplying both M-11s and M-9s in unassembled form, which required development of a dedicated missile assembly facility near Rawalpindi’ (p. 40, ibid.).

There are marked differences between China and Pakistan that rule out Pakistan as a colony for China. China’s pragmatism as `religion’, now dollar-orientation, obedient labour force, enlightened leadership with a world vision, and hard work ethos is different from Pakistan’s.

Take water aspect alone. Our lethargy marks a contrast with China’s history. There are more than 22,104 dams in China over the height of 15 m (49 ft.). Of the world’s total large dams, China accounts for 20 per cent of them, 45 percent for irrigation. The oldest dam in China Dujiangyan Irrigation System dates back to 256 BC. In 2005, there were over 80,000 reservoirs in the country and over 4,800 dams completed or under construction that stands at or exceed 30 metre (98 ft) in height. As of 2007, China is also the world’s leader in the construction of large dams. The tallest dam in China is the Jinping-I Dam at 305 metre (1,001 ft), an arch dam, which is also the tallest dam in the world. The largest reservoir is created by the Three Gorges Dam, which stores 39.3 billion m3 (31,900,000 acre feet) of water and has a surface area of 1,045 km2 (403 sq mi). Three Gorges is also the world’s largest power station.

China’s Marxist-social metamorphosis defies our religious moorings. China was able to bridge the stark differences that existed between rural and urban lifestyles. The hukou system was designed to prevent rural to urban migration.

Our banking sector has consumer orientation. The Chinese system with about 37 tiers has investment orientation. China `entertained’ foreign investors in every possible way. `In 2001, a count of the out-of wedlock children produced by Shenzhen’s working women and mistresses over two decades numbered 5,20,000…the sex industry is one of the few robust conduits of money backs to China’s impoverished areas (Ted C. Fishman, China Inc. 2003, p. 98). There are karaoke clubs to entertain burly foreign investors.

Aside from Tiananmen Square political protest, China has no tradition of industrial protests. `A fundamental problem with the Chinese working class is that it was disorganized and its protests were often leaderless (Alvin Y.So and Yin Wah Chu, The Global Rise of China, p.144).  The so-called unions just collected funds to organise birthday parties and recreational events. In November 1999, the government announced new rules for public gatherings regarding assemblies larger than 200 to obtain approval from local public-security authorities.

Pakistani onlookers.  C Chinese leaders have a world vision Weltanschanschauung.

Pakistani sand-dune `leaders’ have none.

Misconception 3: Chinese to be Pakistan’s second language: The popularity of a language rises or falls pari passu with a country’s place in the comity of nations. Historically, English, French, Russian, Arabic and mandarin were the languages of imperialistic or conquering states. Shifts in power triggered shifts in the status of languages. English continues to hold sway as it has dominated the commercial, scientific, commercial, scientific and technological fields.

Sir Syed understood the link between power and language. Britain and France insisted upon enforcing English and French in their colonies. During the heyday of the Soviet Union, Russian was the lingua franca from Prague to Hanoi.

After the demolition of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Germans began to take pride in speaking German at international forums. People follow language of the dominant power. In the subcontinent, the English language supplanted Persian, the language of the Moghuls. So much so, that that Persian is now archaic in South Asia.

Hong Kong’s effervescence for mandarin is due to the rise of China. When, around 2050, China displaces the USA as the world’s premier economy, English is likely to give way to mandarin as the world’s new lingua franca.

In Pakistan, Sindh set the trend. The NED Engineering University and many private school systems have started teaching mandarin. The Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority, Punjab, offers free language courses for students of all ages.

To attract, Chinese investment in our country, we should say Ni hao to Chinese language.

Misconception 4; The 21st Century will be China’s, not America’s: The fear is that China will surpass the USA within next 10 to 20 years. Cash-rich Beijing with over US$ 30 trillion in foreign capital-reserves will be increasingly uncompromising diplomatically. To entertain a rising Chinese middle class, the world would become more and more `Sinicised’.

The truth is that the Western view of China is a bit too alarmist. The world will have to compromise with China’s economic and cultural heft. The two world views can coexist. One is based on protection of individual self-interest, and the other is top-down Confucian patriarchy. Yet, the diarchy may co-exist peacefully without a Manichian struggle of the ilk of good and evil, darkness and light. Be it observed, aside from hype China has so far been non-hegemonic at heart. It has no desire to spin existing geo-politico-economic order out its axis. China will move on its peaceful trajectory for another thirty years. China is unlikely to replay misadventures of the Great Leap Forward’ and the `Cultural Revolution’ to re-shape the nation in Mao Zedong’s image.

The people are becoming more and more resentful against bureaucratic control, lethargy and even perceived corruption. On average over 150000 `public disorder events’ occur each year. Massive abuse of `eminent domain’ is conspicuous from compensating owners of seized lands at fire-scale prices. Restructuring led to dislocation of workers. Internet is an outlet to fan concerns about government’s impartiality and favouritism. People are sick of fat-cat-like bureaucratic lifestyle. Chinese ministry of state security has about 100,000 employees who employ sophisticated algorithms to monitor and censor sensitive online chats, and micro-blogs. Mao Zedong is still revered as `70 per cent positive and 30 per cent negative’.

Misconception 5: Ascendancy of American style individualism: Chinese are becoming better off with a rising middle class and concomitant changes in cultural outlook. Yet, they are far off from American ethos of `life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’. The cultural wave is manifest from China’s role rock scene, loaded with a rebellious spirit, and bands like Hutong Fist, Tomahawks, Catcher in the Rye, Twisted machine, Queen Sea,  Big Shark and Wild Children. Surely people have abandoned colorless conformity in favour of individualism.

Yet, the brutal; truth is family life discourages individualism. `Pursuit of happiness’ is at best an adolescent fantasy. It is soon forsaken under stress of marriage mortgage, mother-in-law and motor car ownership.

Parents teachers bosses never encourage defining oneself independent of society. The clan, not society is the primary productive unit of society. Ego gratification is not synonymous with individualism,. Success with societal acknowledgment is the norm, not sol flights.

Misconception 6: Atheism: Chinese aretraditionally obsessed with survival, not eternity, or higher spiritual values. C Chinese philosophy of Daoism, Confucianism, and legalism are mechanistic. They are concerned with values as a means to an end. Pragmatism is the key attitude. Buddhism stands secularized to align gods with wealth and kitchen not spiritual alignment.

The Chinese society is in transition. Materialism now means faith in a bright future. Even spread of C Christianity in both rural and urban areas is not tantamount to rejection of traditional values. During the Tang dynasty, Buddhism emerged as complement to, not repudiation material secularism.

Misconception 7: revolutionary influence of Internet: China is a country in East Asia and is the world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.428 billion in 2017. As of July 2016, 730,723,960 people (53.2% of the country’s total population) were internet users. They are free to play violent computer games, indulge in free music-downloads access to boot-legged movies, and e-commerce. Too, gap between rulers and the ruled have been narrowing. Anonymous sentinels (Weibo, China’s Twitter clone) relay reports of corruption in real time.

Yet, internet is unlikely to upend people-to-government relationship. Internet chats do not crystallise into massive organised dissent. Pre-occupied with welfare of their families few would dare risking trouble with authorities. Very few people knew of dissident Liu Xiabo’s arrest, or his Noble Peace Prize..

Chinese cyberspace is like a walled crystal-globe. People can gaze through it over the world around but they can’t take part in violent agitation. The government cleverly uses cyberspace in advancing social harmony. It facilitates e-commerce platforms. They expand supply and improve quality of consumer goods available in lower-tier markets, down to the rural fringe.

Digital technology has improved Party’s responsiveness. There are over 50,000 net-police monitor-bulletin-boards which alert leadership about discussion on sensitive topics and unharmonious rumblings before they flare up into untoward incidents.

Misconception 8: Chinese people are akin to Europeans: Not so. Average Chinese values stability in family above individualism. There are no political or religious divides as in Europe: lackadaisical Italians versus industrious Germans, anti-institutional Protestants versus statist Catholic.

China displays differences in the north, dominated by bureaucratic state-owned enterprises and the south close to the sea, encumbered by governmental hierarchy. Generally, the Chinese have an identical world view.

As of November 2019, China’s population stands at 1.435 billion, the largest of any country in the world. According to the 2010 census, 91.51% of the population was Han Chinese, and 8.49% were minorities. China’s population growth rate is only 0.59%, ranking 159th in the world.

The major minority ethnic groups in China are Zhuang (16.9 million), Hui (10.5 million), Manchu (10.3 million), Uyghur (10 million), Miao (9.4 million), Yi (8.7 million), Tujia (8.3 million), Tibetan (6.2 million), Mongol (5.9 million), Dong (2.8 million), Buyei (2.8 million), and Yao (2.7 million), Bai (1.9 million). The identified 56 minorities remain outside Han cultural fold.

Misconception 9: Inscrutable Chinese consumer: Usually reticent, Chinese evince warmth once trust has been established. They are  not complicated and display warmth and directness in everyday attitude. They are attracted to Western brands just as any other consumer.

Misconception 10; China growth bubble is about to burst: Critics outline a host of challenges to Chinese growth model. They include rising inflation and commodity prices, wage increases inimical to low-cost manufacturing, bureaucratic hurdles to bold structural reforms, urban-rural income militating against social harmony, and an education system that squelches harmony. The fact is that resilient Chinese economy is not over-heating. The economist noted that China’s accumulated investment in fixed assets is still low and real wages have been rising strongly, which should help boos consumption in the medium term. Talk of popping bubbles is confined to high-end neighbourhoods in coastal capitals.

China is emulating American experience in becoming an industrial powerhouse in the twentieth century. Formation of supplier-and-producer clusters is facilitates through cost-slashing in different regions now specializing in different sectors. The middle class has completed a successful production-consumption circle akin to the USA.

Misconception 11: burgeoning poverty due to unbalanced growth: China was able to bridge the stark differences that existed between rural and urban lifestyles. The hukou system was designed to prevent rural to urban migration. In China today, poverty refers mainly to the rural poor, as decades of economic growth have largely eradicated urban poverty. The dramatic progress in reducing poverty over the past three decades in China is well known. According to the World Bank, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015, as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms.In 2017, China lifted 12.89 million rural people from poverty which put the poverty rate at 3.1 percent compared to its 4.5 percent the previous year. Around 500 million people, or 40 percent of the population within China, survive on $5.50 per day or less.

Productivity has overpowered lack of innovation, creaky distribution networks, patchy tax collection, and even corruption…

Misconception 12; China is militarily aggressive: China is accused of harbouring outlandish territorial claims in South China Sea, confronting Japan on the high seas and the Philippines.  Over 1000 ballistic weapons aim at Taiwan.

Its annual defence spending has been increasing by 13 per cent since 1989. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates the overall 2018 figure at $250 billion and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) puts the number at $209 billion in 2017. The US Department of Defense concludes that China’s 2018 defense budget likely exceeded $200 billion. In 2017, the magazine Popular Mechanics estimated that China’s annual military spending is greater than $200 billion, around 2% of the GDP.

But, be it noted that the U.S. spent $649 billion on its military to 2018, according to a report published in 2019 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. That’s significantly more than China, second on the list of top military spenders. Of course China is now making aircraft carriers and missiles with range over 900 kilometers. Still, China is nowhere near the USA in military capability. Nor does it have any ambition to invade other countries or challenge USA’s military supremacy in any way.

Temperamentally, Chinese shield themselves from danger (The great Wall). But, they have no itch to wage a war.

India unilaterally `annexed’ Chinese territory in her maps. China did nothing more than protesting verbally or sending emissaries to India for talks.

Misconception 13: Uyghur’s persecution and social issues: The Uyghurs, alternately Uygurs, Uighurs or Uigurs, are a

Minority Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uyghurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The Uighurs are the people whom Old Russian travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their language.

The Uighurs are the people whom old Russian travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their language. They are mentioned in Chinese records from the 3rd century. They first rose to prominence in the 8th century, when they established a kingdom along the Orhon River in what is now north-central Mongolia.

Insider dated December 24, 2019 reported that China has initiated a “Pair Up and Become Family” program to dilute Uyghur minority. Han Chinese men are sent to live with Uighur women in China’s western region of Xinjiang. “Neither the girls nor their families can reject such a marriage because they will be viewed [by Chinese authorities] as Islamic extremists for not wanting to marry atheist Han Chinese. They have no choice but to marry them.  It is alleged that the Han Chinese have been raping Uighur women in the name of marriage for years. China denies the allegation.

Be it observed that the Uighurs is not like Orthodox Muslims. Both Pakistan and the Uighurs criticise each other. Andre Small (p.80, ibid.) states `Pakistan’s criticism of the Uighurs’ irreligiousness or fondness casts aspersions on their standing as Muslims’. It is said that `Turkistan separatists are supported by the United States or India in order to drive a wedge between China and Pakistan.

Chinese concept of Social evils differs from Pakistan’s. Divested of morality, an ordinary Chinese consider it just normal to give or take `body pleasure’ for money. In Khanewal some Chinese engineers scuffled with police when it tried to prevent them from going to a `red-light area’. Recently some Chinese gangs have been busted at Faislalabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi for fake marriages with Pakistani girls including some underage and later exploiting them as sex slaves (Dawn, Tribune, etc. dated May 9, 2019). The police recovered illicit aphrodisiac `drugs’, `gold ornaments’, `dowry’, Chinese passports and weapons. It is generally believed that the arrests are just a tip of the iceberg. In some Karachi areas, Chinese have rented congested adjacent housing units in various Karachi areas and turned them into `out of bound’ to Pakistanis. What they do there is anybody’s guess. Traditionally, Chinese prefer to develop and live in China towns wherever they go on the globe. In Pakistan, they have avoided doing so as what they eat (cats, dogs, monkey brains, insects) may sound revulsive and non-kosher to

Conclusion: Though China wants to overcome present and future challenges, it has no manifesto detailing goals for the next two decades. The alarmist or envious view of a rising China engendered many misconceptions. Once could however peek through XI Jinping’s pronouncements, or his predecessors, to sift his `benchmark vision’. There are three benchmarks.  In the first ten years, the goal was to provide adequate food and clothing to Chinese population (already achieved). In the second phase, the plan is to build a moderately-prosperous country by 20120 with a per capita gross Domestic Product of around US$ 13,000. The final phase, 2020 to 2050, envisions complete modernization of both rural and urban parts of China.

Since early 2013, XI has been talking about `fuqiang guojia’ (`rich, strong, powerful country’). To realise his dreams, he need to stay in power. Yet, his dream is threatened by emerging challenges to China’s stability and development. The most potent challenge emanates from US machinations to destabilize China (tariff and trade war, religious concerns, BRI/CPEC concerns).  True, there are social issues involving China’s unity, need for political reform in view of the Party’s long continuation in power and economic or political deterioration in the international environment.

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